The Truth About the First Step Act

If you have been recently watching Fox News, which I don't and I pray you don't, I'm told you heard Senators Tom Cotton (R-AK) and John Kennedy (R-LA) whining to Tucker Carlson and anyone else who would listen about the hundreds of murderers and rapists released from federal prisons into the neighborhoods of America in late July by the First Step Act. I don't know if they're ignorant or just intentionally twisting the facts, but I guess their capacities or motives are irrelevant. The facts are they're wrong. At this time, Federal prisoners have been released under the FSA for only 1 of 3 reasons.

1. Existing law has always allowed inmates to earn 54 days of Good Time Credits for each year of their sentence during which they exhibit exemplary behavior. However, the Bureau of Prisons, in it's limited wisdom, has calculated 54 days to mean only 47 days. In the FSA, Congress told the BOP to fix its faulty math. The BOP delayed this fix for 7 months, but on July 19th finally started giving inmates near their release dates their extra 7 days per year. An inmate near the end of a 20 year sentence received 140 (7x20) days of extra Good Time Credits and was released immediately. However, many of these inmates were already in halfway houses or in home confinement, as they were about to released anyway. We had no inmates released here because of the recalculation, but over time, many will leave early, finally getting the 54 days per year that Congress always intended.

2. The FSA made retroactive a provision in the 2nd Chance Act that passed during the Obama administration which removed the racially biased sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and regular cocaine. This retroactivity was effective when the FSA was signed in December, 2018. Some crack cocaine offenders have been released throughout 2019, as their sentences have been reduced by their sentencing court, not the BOP. We had one inmate so released in February, whom I wrote about here.

3. The FSA broadens the ability of terminally ill inmates to petition the BOP or their sentencing court for early release. When I say terminally ill, I mean at death's door. It also re-establishes and broadens an expired pilot program that allows nonviolent inmates over age 60 to spend 2/3 of their sentence in prison and 1/3 in home confinement, saving the BOP and the American taxpayers money.

None of the other sentencing reduction and extra halfway house and home confinement provision of the FSA have become effective yet. It will be early 2020 before that happens. But when that happens, NONE of those changes will shorten the sentence of one violent offender. If you hear otherwise, don't believe it. Better yet, if you ever see Sen. Cotton or Sen. Kennedy on TV, just turn down the sound and watch his eyes. The eyes will follow you wherever you go in the room.

Warning: Don't do this alone at night.